HARRISONBURG, Va. — As the coronavirus pandemic has crept into the Rockingham County community, it has become more difficult for many to keep food on the table. Patchwork Pantry volunteers are making some creative, resourceful adjustments to keep the pantry doors open at Community Mennonite Church.
Program director Jennifer Ulrich has been involved since the pantry’s inception in 1992, working as a volunteer for years before becoming one of the Wednesday night supervisors. She became director in 2016 when Sheri Hartzler and her husband, Jay, of Community Mennonite moved to Romania for mission work.
“As the state moved into its shelter-at-home mode we realized we’d need to find ways to social distance volunteers and our neighbors who needed food,” Ulrich said. “I worked with Jan Jenner, our Patchwork board chair, and Adrienne Griggs . . . to think through how we could do a drive-up pantry.
“Instead of clients coming into the church fellowship hall, volunteers now meet them at their cars. During this time, we’re not asking clients about their choice of food items, as we normally do. We still need to record each person’s visit through a software program after they receive their food.”
To help expedite procedural changes, Patchwork volunteers have begun packing some food items earlier in the day.
Ulrich said one of the biggest challenges lately is “figuring out how many volunteers are needed each week . . . we’ve been fortunate to have a core group of volunteers we can depend on to assist regularly.”
More people in need
The distributed food comes mainly from the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank in Verona, supplemented by items contributed by area churches, organizations and individuals.
“We have seen an increase in the number of families needing food,” Ulrich said. “We’re currently averaging between 50 and 60 households being served Wednesday nights.”
The most-needed commodities have been rice, canned green vegetables and canned fruit, cereals and canned meat such as tuna. Ulrich also wants to provide more personal hygiene products including shampoo, bar soap, toilet paper and toothpaste. Financial gifts are always welcomed for this purpose.
If COVID-19 happens to surge in the community, Jenner anticipates “the number of families needing food assistance will continue to be high for months after the ‘return to somewhat normal,’ so we will continue efforts to ramp up the number of people we are able to help.
“We will need to make plans to move back to a system where we can check in with clients face-to-face. . . . Whatever lies ahead, we will seek to offer services in a relational way that values the dignity of people coming for food assistance.”